Israel’s national Under-20 soccer team clinched third place in the youth World Cup tournament on Sunday, ending its unprecedented run in the global competition with a 3-1 consolation match win against South Korea.
Later Sunday, Uruguay, which defeated Israel on Friday, downed Italy 1-0 at La Plata’s Diego Maradona stadium in Argentina to snag its first-ever World Cup Under-20 crown. Uruguay’s championship, its first in three tries, breaks a streak of four consecutive titles for European squads since Brazil took the trophy in 2011.
The Israelis stunned powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals, but their charmed progress was stopped with a 1-0 defeat by Uruguay in the last four on Friday.
They responded to that semifinal defeat quickly by opening the scoring in Sunday’s third-placed playoff after 20 minutes, as midfielder Ran Binyamin hit home.
Four minutes later, South Korea equalized, as Seung-Won Lee converted a penalty.
Israel had the best of the second half and with 20 minutes remaining, forward Omer Senior had a goal disallowed for offside.
Six minutes later, replacement Senior was on the scoresheet before Anan Khalaili made sure of victory with four minutes to play. He was then was yellow-carded for taking his shirt off while celebrating.
Throughout the weeks-long tournament, the Israeli squad pulled off a series of improbable wins, including the shock victory over powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Israel barely reached the tournament’s stage of 16, starting the competition with a heartbreaking, last-minute defeat to Colombia in the first game and a lukewarm draw against Senegal in the second.
But in the third and final group-stage match last week, the youth squad notched Israel’s first-ever win in any FIFA soccer World Cup, with a wild, come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Japan in stoppage time, finishing second in Group C and qualifying.
After that, the team continued its unlikely run last Tuesday with a 97th-minute goal to upend Uzbekistan 1-0 and reach the quarterfinal.
This year marked Israel’s first-ever trip to the U-20 World Cup. Its lone trip to the main World Cup in 1970 ended without a single win.
The tournament was held in Argentina after Indonesia was stripped of its spot as host and participant amid protests in the Muslim-majority country against hosting the Israeli team.